Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
Ladies and Gentlemen the king has returned, King Kendrick aka Kung Fu Kenny aka Cornrow Kenny aka Kenny Duckworth, whatever you call him he’s back and he once again is unrivaled making music of this quality on the scale that he does. Throughout the course of his career, Kendrick has chipped away at the mold of what a rapper can do and think and accomplish. Now in a fuck-bitches-get-money culture of hip hop ruling the radio Kendrick dares to be different and take chances, not just in his lyrics but in the musical styles he explores. Following the opening track where he gets shot trying to help a blind woman, Kendrick takes on Fox News, cops, and the government, low hanging fruit for rappers yet he does it better than anyone, and he examines what’s in his DNA stating, “Shit I been through probly offend you.” Most importantly Geraldo Rivera, who responded by saying Drake is better) Throughout this album you can find so many reasons that Kendrick is THE best rapper, not only is his writing profound, thought-provoking, exciting, but his physical capacity to deliver rhymes is truly staggering. The biggest thing that set him apart on this album is that he is, “HUMBLE.” While he partakes in braggadocio throughout (how could you not being him) this album is largely an examination of himself, with several confessions that he if flawed, which is the sort of thing you don’t hear much of in rap. On “FEEL” he explores a range of emotions and offers criticism of himself and the world around him, on “XXX” he examines the contradictory nature of wanting to stop black on black violence, yet counsels his friend to kill the man who killed his son. Not only does he depict the complexities of humanity, but he obviously contemplates the extremely complicated life of a black man in 2017. This complexities are mirrored in the two sided elemental song titles, “DNA” & “BLOOD”, “PRIDE” & “HUMBLE”, “LUST” & “LOVE,” showing that there are different sides and facets to all situations. Kendrick perfectly encapsulates the atrocities that black Americans endure, and offers a comforting and guiding voice for all of us, while admitting that he’s not perfect himself, “In a perfect world I’d be perfect, world.” In the past Kendrick has gotten stupid criticism for being too serious, but I feel like he still brings the party on tracks like, “LOYALTY” “HUMBLE” and “GOD,” “ELEMENT” is such a classic confidence boosting rap track, “Pull up, hop out, air out, made it look sexy.” Yet for fans of intellectual rap, the whole album is dense with philosophical pondering, astute wordplay, and cultural significance. Beside all that is sounds fucking amazing working with an all-star lineup of producers including Mike Will Made It, James Blake, and many more, as well as collaborators like Anna Wise and The Internet’s Steve Lacy, not to mention the big budget features of Rihanna and U2. I’ll end my review the same way the album ends, with the most amazing story told in recent rap history. Kendrick chronicles the youth of the perviously mysterious Anthony “Top Dog” Tiffith, C.E.O. of Top Dawg Entertainment. He tells Anthony’s plans to rob a KFC and shoot the cashier, Ducky, Kendrick’s dad, who gave Anthony free chicken and biscuits, resulting in him letting Ducky live. Years later Ducky’s son was signed to the label of the man who almost killed his dad. Kendrick blurs the lines, allowing pop and indie-rock to bleed into hip hop, and further secures his spot on the hip hop storyteller throne.
Deep State Thought Garden
Athens, GA has a rich musical history. Cult-classic bands from the Elephant 6 collective like of Montreal, Elf Power, and Neutral Milk Hotel called Athens home. Now a band joins the ranks of Athens musical heritage with traces of it's predecessors. Founded by Taylor Chmura who, "wanted to form an aggressive/cathartic/punk band that was undeniably catchy.” That's exactly what he did, all of these songs are immediate and in your face, but with some of the most infectious melodies this side of the Mississippi. Taylor stated that he had so many melodies swirling in his head that he had to unleash them somehow. As the cover demonstrates the lyrics are pensive and clever, covering so much terrain with inescapable melodies they feel like concoctions brewed and perfected over time, growing in Chmura's thought garden until they were begging to be plucked and presented. This is punk at it's finest, balancing the raw "fuck you" attitude of old school punk with welcoming pop structures. Hear me play their song "Mountains" on Best Song Ever.
Little Dragon Season High
Swedish Electro-pop band have been a mainstay of the indie music world for years and they’ve collaborated with the likes of Gorillaz, De La Soul, and Kaytranda. Yet on their new album they go in a bold new direction, channeling 80’s pop like Prince and Michael Jackson, which frontwoman Yukimi Nagano’s meek yet powerful vocals have no problem adjusting to. They made these songs to escape the gloomy days that waited outside and many of the tracks have that chill, slightly melancholy vibe. However, many of the tracks on this album are big synthpop jams. This album wins the award for most strange unique synth sounds packed into one record. I’m not a huge fan of 80’s pop so I’m surprised I enjoyed this album as much as I did, but also it’s Little Dragon and they would have to try hard to lose me as a fan. These songs have so much happening in them, but it all gels together to make a smooth synthetic storm. Hear Brian and I discuss this album and play “Celebrate” on Best Song Ever.
Lillie Mae Forever and Then Some
Nashville singer/songwriter has been playing in bands since she was 9 years old, and for the past few years has lent her talents on fiddle and mandolin to Jack White’s tour band. Naturally, Jack repaid the favor by producing her debut album, Forever and Then Some, and releasing it on his own Third Man Records (that may mean it was pressed at the plant in Detroit, down the street from me). Lillie Mae Rische delivers a beautiful debut album, with rich yet subtle compositions of classic country instruments, outfitted with gorgeous orchestration that rounds out the powerful swells in her vocals. This is crisp, clean country, not surprising that this album sounds flawless considering White was at the helm. She sings of love, loss, regret, and coming home, through vulnerable ballads and toe-tapping honkey tonk jams. This is a beautiful debut and the latest in a long line of fine music that Jack White has produced.
Spoek Mathambo Mzansi Beat Code
Veteran South African producer Spoek Mathambo has made a name for himself combining pulsing house and techno with hip hop, funk, injecting African folk influences to bring his native sound to a wider audience. That’s certainly what he does on his new album Mzansi Beat Code. Mzansi is the name for “south” in the local language so he is bringing the beat of the south of Africa to the world. He blurs the lines of genres, bouncing from repetative skeletal techno to melodic bouncy synth pop. This is the first album where Spoek didn’t contribute vocals on the album, and his focus on the instrumentals comes through as they are expertly constructed. Filling his spot is a long list of lesser known singers and rappers that give the varied vocal personalities to each song. This is Spoek’s best work yet and hopefully will spread the Mzansi beat far and wide. Hear Brian talk about how these song remind him of LCD Soundsystem and we listen to the opener “Want Ur Love” on Best Song Ever.
Shamir Bailey has been writing songs with an Epiphone guitar since age 9. Identifying as neither male of female, Shamir burst onto the scene in 2014 with a striking androgynous countertenor voice and a clever confidence. Shamir's 2015 debut Ratchet found Bailey singing and rapping over pulsing electronic beats, considered by many, myself included, as one of the best records of the year. However, Hope, is a stark contrast to the previous record, release entirely by surprise, even his manager didn't know. Shamir recorded every part on a four track recorder over a weekend. The most surprising part is that it's pretty much a straight up rock record, which makes sense considering the early Epiphone days, but this truly was a side of Shamir we had not yet seen. Shamir said that this record feels like a "coming out" since a coming out was never necessary, Shamir just existed and people figured it out. This is 100% Shamir's most personal record, the raw rock sound adds to the vulnerability heard on all of these tracks. Shamir tests the limits of countertenor vocal ability, with crescendos finding Bailey's voice so high it could break glass. While the debut record was more polished and produced this album is rough around the edges. This may result in some disappointed fans the support has mostly been really positive, appreciate the vulnerability of Shamir. Though these tracks are lo-fi and a bit abrasive at times this feels like deeply genuine expression from a practiced songwriter. You can find the full album on Shamir's soundcloud.
Cotillon The Afternoons
In 2015 Cotillon, the rock project of Jordan Corso, made their debut with rocking self-titled album and now Jordan’s back with The Afternoons. The debut was recorded in San Francisco and Jordan wanted this to be a New York album so he left sunny California and made his way to the Big Apple (he chronicles the experience on “10 Dish Set"). Corso teamed up with Quilt's Shane Butler who felt Corso's music was fittingly representative of the city. The lyrics are cusually comfortable, speaking to the listener as if they're an old friend. This album finds Corse reinvigorating his sound, sliding from crunchy punk, breezy alt-rock, and more expansive rock tracks. This album is sounds fantastic with veteran players like John Andrews and Jon Nellen supporting. This is a successful next step for an already fantastic band.
Talib Kweli & Styles P The Seven
Any political rap album released this week is obviously going to overshadowed by DAMN., but if anyone could make one to stand beside King Kendrick, it's hip hop legends Talib Kweli and Styles P. These guys were heavy hitters in hip hop when I was growing up and getting into the genre. I've lost track of both of their careers since the mid aughts but I've been seeing their names resurface as features and now they've teamed up to deliver a much needed statement from our rap elders. It feels like business as usual, Kweli familiar voice is comforting and his writing is as sharp as ever. The two examine what it means to be black in America in 2017 and touch on the obvious topics. Joined by the usual suspects like Common and Jadakiss, this album feels reminiscent of a bygone era of rap, tailored for the current climate.
Logic Black Spiderman
I've been seriously obsessed with this song and video. For those of you who don't know Logic, the stage name of Bobby Bryson Hall III, is an insanely talented young rapper who's known for his creative concepts, eye-catching album art, and not to mention lightning fast rhyming abilities. His third studio album is shaping up to be his best yet. Like so many rappers he's drawing from the political and social climate, touching on issues like race and sexuality. His perspective is especially unique because he looks white for the most part, yet is biracial, putting him in a strange in between space, suffering the discrimination from racists and skepticism regarding his rapping from members of the black community. Yet his mindset is to rise above, be proud of who he is, and encourage others to do the same. The video for this song is amazing, you'll find it below, I love how he puts himself in the shoes of struggling single mothers and members of the LGBTQ community. This song has a feeling of joy in the face of adversity, not to mention Logic demonstrates his immense verbal talent and thoughtful writing skills. The chorus touches on the racist backlash of the call for Donald Glover to be the next Spiderman. Which, Tom Holland is pretty good, but I think we've seen enough white scrawny teenage Spidermen that casting Glover would be a cool reimagining. At least Glover is probably gonna be a cool villain in Homecoming though. I am so excited for Logic's new album Everybody out May 5th on Def Jam.